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Verizon teams with TeleCommunication Systems to offer SMS-to-911 services

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Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) said it will work with TeleCommunication Systems to offer subscribers the ability to send text messages to 911 dispatchers. The announcement indicates Verizon plans to move ahead with the service on its own, without an industrywide initiative or FCC mandate.

Verizon said it will work with TeleCommunication Systems to launch SMS-to-911 services with "select" 911 dispatch locations by early next year. Only those 911 call centers that are able to process text messages likely will be able to make use of the offering.

Verizon said it will use its existing CDMA SMS network for 911 text notifications.

Text-to-911 services have been touted as a way to allow deaf or hard-of-hearing users to connect with emergency services. Such offerings could also aid those who wish to call 911 but need to do so without making noise.

This isn't the first time Verizon has sought to offer expanded 911 calling options--the carrier in 2011 teamed with Intrado to test a 911 service in Texas that supported video and text messages. More recently, Vermont announced it will conduct a statewide, six-month test of text-to-911 services with Verizon and its partner Intrado. 

The topic of sending text messages to 911 has been debated for years. While most industry players agree that the nation's 911 system needs to be upgraded to support texting, picture messaging and other technologies, there is widespread disagreement about exactly how to implement such changes. Some in the industry have called for the FCC to set guidelines governing how wireless carriers send text messages to 911, and how 911 call centers receive those messages. Others, however, have argued against an FCC mandate targeting text-to-911 services, urging the agency to instead overhaul the entire 911 system to support all types of IP communications, from text messaging to video calling. Such an overhaul likely would take years.

For more:
- see this release
- see this separate release
- see this Hillicon Valley article

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Article updated May 7 with details of the Vermont trail.